The design factory
Nurturing ideas and bringing them to life in a unique environment – welcome to the Audi Design Centre.
19 April, 2018
Anyone passing by the northern edge of the Audi plant in Ingolstadt is sure to do a double-take – the new Design Centre is a real eye-catcher. It sets a veritable architectural accent with its classically calm glass façade. The new building extends over six floors and has a footprint of 107 by 71 metres – the size of a soccer field. It took three years to build. Around 600 people who were previously spread across seven different locations now work together under one roof. Most of them are designers; added to that are the folks who work in concept development and the ‘Strak’, an interface to the Technical Development.
Andrea Staebner (pictured below) is project leader for the new building. She has been working on the concept and execution since 2012. So, what was her biggest challenge? “My co-workers are all about creativity and aesthetics. Planning a building for them is extremely demanding,” she says.
The entrance hall, for instance, has been structured as an exhibition area for art and design with changing themes and accessible to all Audi employees. In the bistro, there’s a small library, large-format pictures grace its walls, and it features only authentic materials like oak, exposed concrete and cotton.
A light, bright look-and-feel are core aspects of the spacious, open Design Centre – as are the expansive views of the outside world. “It’s inspiring and promotes creativity,” asserts Staebner, who came to Audi after completing her studies in interior architecture and wrote her masters’ thesis on open office-space planning. “The building has been conceived to optimise the design process.”
"The new Design Centre is a real eye-catcher. It sets a veritable architectural accent with its classically calm glass façade."
"Meeting islands provide inviting areas for discussions, while the modelling studios become a gathering point – ideal conditions for close dialogue among designers, CAD experts and model makers."
LED screens and modelling workspace with cutting machines are now located side by side, enabling the designers to draw continuous comparisons between the 3D model and the reference clay model. The designers have a direct sightline not only to the CAD specialists, who work up the vehicle’s design from sketches to create a 3D model, but also to the model makers – and thus to both the digital and physical models.
This eye contact is facilitated by glass walls between the offices, the creative spaces and the studios with the clay models.
Meeting islands provide inviting areas for discussions, while the modelling studios become a gathering point – ideal conditions for close dialogue among designers, CAD experts and model makers. Their intense networking is becoming increasingly important as Audi prepares itself to bring a true product offensive to the roads over the next few years. The designers are having to bring even more concepts to production maturity, within an even shorter timeframe.
With employees numbering more than 400, Audi Design has more than doubled its workforce since 2000, while the team is already handling five times more projects and facing substantially greater technical demands. The process of matching design ideas with technical specifications is intensifying all the time.
It is for these reasons that the design team has developed the new C3 process, combining the digital with the traditional. Computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D visualisation on huge LED walls are just as important to the process as classic model making.
The new Design Centre functions as a digital design workshop. It makes it possible to present the vehicle realistically in all phases of its development – three-dimensionally, in any setting and in all weathers. How might the light fall on the car on a grey February morning in London? All optical effects are accurately calculated and incorporated on the LED walls.
“It means I can make a very precise assessment of a design idea even when it’s still in the digital phase,” says design boss, Marc Lichte, “and we can cut the first clay model with a significantly greater degree of design maturity.”
The outcome is a high level of process certainty, a more coherent outline design and a higher level of flexibility for creative ideas.
This creativity is aided by extraordinary space-in-space situations known as cubes. The 24 large, open boxes made from wood and metal are a little like industrial containers, and function as islands in the everyday working environment. They, too, play an important role in the design process, as Andrea Staebner knows: “They act as a retreat and give the team the space they need to generate creative ideas.” It starts with a strong idea that then develops positively – and ultimately becomes a coherent, fascinating product.
"It makes it possible to present the vehicle realistically in all phases of its development – three-dimensionally, in any setting and in all weathers."
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